Monthly Archives: May 2012

Scotts vs. Pennington: Grass Stains

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It’s springtime in the US, and the sounds of birds chirping and squirrels chattering are being drowned out by Scotts and Pennington going after each other like Itchy and Scratchy.  For peat’s sake, what’s going on here?

For starters, seems there’s a violation of that age-old marketing axiom:  don’t legitimize your smaller competitor!  (I mean, would Mitt have belittled Ron Paul?  Do the Kardashians need to compare themselves to Snooki?)

Scotts Company – the 800 lb gorilla.  If you can fog a mirror you have heard and/or seen a lot of a Scotsman named ‘Scott’ of Scotts doing a pitch for TurfBuilder grass seed in a slightly cartoony but mostly agreeable faux-brogue.  This is prime time for the enormous lawn care industry and Scotts brought their A Game with breakthrough advertising with a simple message and catchy mnemonic.  And who doesn’t know Scotts?  They are the 800 lb gorilla in lawn care.  All they really need to do is remind you of the need, the name, and where to buy.

The scrappy upstart. So what happens?  A much lesser known (perhaps until now) competitor named Pennington Seed Company and Scotts have apparently gotten sufficiently in each others’ grills with competitive claims that there has been a spate of back-and-forth lawsuits in the last few years.  Unlike most categories where Scotts dominates, Pennington actually claims share leadership in their specialty, seed.  And in an effort to directly tweak their nemesis, Pennington currently is running copy claiming that Scotts seed products contain filler.

You said their name was Pennington?’  Amazingly, Scotts has responded by running spots mentioning Pennington by name with ‘Scott’ also saying on radio he’s got ‘a bee in his britches’ about the claim Pennington is making regarding seeds.

One can just imagine how ticked off Scotts management must have been to approve the spots (likely over the agency’s guidance), and maybe it feels good, but this can’t be a good move.  By contesting Pennington’s position in a portion of the business, seed, Scotts has now validated Pennington as a broader lawn care company, making it easier for them to increase their offerings beyond seed.

“I’d like to acknowledge my competitor, who is way behind in the polls”.  Everyone who would have previously looked past Pennington on the shelf now has some level of name recognition and credibility-by-association, so this can do nothing but help Pennington when clearly Scotts’ objective was the opposite.

Separately, over the last year Scott has launched more detailed explanatory videos on YouTube, documenting exactly what is in a bag of Scott seed.  Because this is likely to be viewed only by people who are already involved in the category, contrary to their broadcast marketing efforts, this seems like a very smart move.

Will be interesting to see how this plays out – – a lot of green is at stake.